Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/17/2020
If you’re losing your hair and want to do something about it, a variety of treatment options are available for you.
Then there are personal care products such as shampoos, which aim to slow down hair loss and stimulate the growth of new hair.
More recently, a variety of laser hair growth treatments have come onto the market. Many of these use medical-grade lasers to stimulate hair follicles, with claims suggesting that regular use of laser therapy can improve the supply of blood and nutrients to your hair.
Laser treatments are supported by some science, although the research that’s available right now is far from comprehensive.
Below, we’ve dug into the science behind laser hair growth treatments to learn how effective they really are. We’ve also looked at the specific treatments that are available now, including popular laser-based medical treatments and products like laser hair growth caps.
Finally, we’ve listed the other science-based treatment options that are available if you want to treat your hair loss, including FDA-approved medications and surgical procedures.
Male pattern baldness, the type of hair loss that affects men, is caused by the androgen hormone DHT. If you’re genetically predisposed to male pattern baldness, DHT can stop your hair follicles from producing new hairs, causing thinning and total baldness.
Most science-based treatments for hair loss work by either blocking androgens such as DHT, or by stimulating the growth of new hairs.
Laser hair growth treatments claim to work by increasing blood circulation in the scalp and stimulating the growth of new hairs.
Some scientific studies have found that laser hair growth treatments are effective, while others have produced mixed or inconsistent results.
Before getting into the specifics of laser treatments for hair loss, it’s important to quickly go over the basics of how and why hair loss occurs.
There are several types of hair loss. However, the most common, and the one that’s usually the most concerning for men, is male pattern baldness -- a type of permanent hair loss that causes a receding hairline, thinning and, for some men, large-scale hair loss across the scalp.
Male pattern baldness is caused by a genetic sensitivity to the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. If you’re genetically predisposed to hair loss, DHT can weaken your hair follicles over time and cause everything from a mild receding hairline to large-scale hair loss.
We’ve explained the relationship between DHT and your hair in greater detail in our full guide to DHT and male pattern baldness.
Laser hair growth treatments, or low-level laser therapy (LLLT), aim to improve hair growth and treat hair loss by improving circulation and stimulating the growth of new hair.
Research over the years has shown that near-infrared or red laser light can promote the repair and regeneration of tissue. Because of this, laser therapy is often used for wound healing and several cosmetic skin treatments.
Most laser hair growth devices work by emitting a light that penetrates the scalp. Although the scientific research is limited, proponents of laser therapy believe that this may enhance blood flow and stimulate hair growth.
At this point in time, there isn’t enough high quality scientific research to confidently state that laser hair growth treatments are or aren’t effective.
The first scientific research into laser treatments for hair loss was performed by chance in the 1960s, when scientists studying mice noticed that they began to grow hair after exposure to a low fluence red laser.
In the decades since, various studies have aimed to determine whether or not lasers actually help to stimulate hair growth and treat male pattern baldness.
Overall, the results are mixed but largely positive. For example, a review of scientific research published in 2014 concluded that laser treatments for hair loss seems to improve certain types of non-scarring hair loss, including hair loss caused by male pattern baldness.
Another evidence-based review published in 2016 found that several moderate to high quality studies showed that laser therapy devices were safe and effective in people with male pattern baldness.
A more recent scientific review published in 2018 found that 10 out of 11 studies of laser hair treatment devices showed significant improvements, with one study indicating improvements but not reaching statistical significance.
Finally, a scientific review published in 2020 concluded that laser hair therapy appears to be effective, with a good safety profile and minor side effects. However, it also noted that some research appears to be associated with the laser hair device industry.
A variety of different laser hair growth devices are available today, including caps, helmets and combs that use laser technology. We’ve listed some of the most common devices below, along with information on how each works and its effectiveness.
Capillus is a popular brand of hair regrowth caps. Marketed as “laser therapy caps,” the caps sold by Capillus feature built-in low-level lasers with a total power output ranging from 410 to 1,560 milliwatts.
The products sold by Capillus are cleared by the FDA and marketed as being “recommended” by physicians. They’re also backed up by a small scientific study in which patients achieved a 51 percent increase in hair count over the course of 17 weeks.
Capillus products are a little on the pricier side of the spectrum, with the company’s cheapest hair loss cap selling for more than $900 retail.
Despite the one study, there’s also mixed evidence as to how effective they are as treatments for male pattern baldness. The company’s study was carried out on women with hair loss and featured no male participants, making it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions.
The study was also supported by the company’s head of quality assurance and governmental affairs, which means that there may be a level of bias in the study’s results.
Beyond this study, Capillus has attracted some attention from the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau for its somewhat aggressive marketing practices.
Since reliable information on the products sold by Capillus is hard to come by, it’s difficult to say whether or not they’re truly effective at stopping and reversing hair loss caused by male pattern baldness.
A variety of bands, combs, helmets and other products containing lasers are often marketed as hair regrowth treatments. Many of these products claim to produce superior results to other hair loss treatments in a convenient, easy-to-use form.
In general, the scientific evidence to support the marketing claims made about these products is mixed.
Some, such as the HairMax Lasercomb®, are supported by scientific evidence, such as a 2014 study that found a modest but statistically significant difference in terminal hair density between people who used the Lasercomb and people who used a sham device.
Others aren’t backed up by much in the way of scientific research and largely rely on marketing claims and customer testimonials.
Like other laser hair growth devices, bands, combs and helmets generally aren’t cheap. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars for some devices to thousands of dollars for others, with many devices bundled with shampoos and other personal care products.
Overall, the evidence for most laser hair growth products and treatments is mixed and far from comprehensive. However, there are several non-laser treatments for hair loss that are backed up by real, reliable scientific research.
These include FDA-approved medications to prevent and reverse hair loss, as well as surgical procedures to restore hair to areas of your scalp affected by male pattern baldness.
Currently, the FDA has approved two medications for treating hair loss caused by male pattern baldness. The first, finasteride, is available with a prescription, while the second, minoxidil, can be purchased over the counter:
Finasteride. A prescription medication, finasteride works by inhibiting the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT, the specific hormone that’s responsible for hair loss in men prone to male pattern baldness.
Finasteride reduces DHT levels by more than 60 percent and can produce a noticeable improvement in hair thickness and density. Although you’ll need to take it every day for it to remain effective, it’s a reliable, proven option if your hair is starting to thin.
Minoxidil. A topical medication for hair loss, minoxidil improves the flow of blood to your scalp. It’s sold as a liquid solution or foam and is designed for direct application to areas of your scalp affected by hair loss.
Unlike finasteride, minoxidil is available without a prescription. With daily use, it usually takes three to six months to produce noticeable results. Like finasteride, you’ll need to keep using minoxidil to maintain your new hair growth.
If you have severe hair loss, or want a more permanent option for restoring your hair, you may want to consider hair transplant surgery.
Hair transplantation surgery involves removing DHT-resistant hair follicles from the back and sides of your scalp, then relocating them to the hairline, crown and other areas of your scalp that are affected by male pattern baldness.
Unlike the fake-looking hair plugs of the 80s and 90s, modern hair transplant surgery tends to produce impressive, natural-looking results, provided it’s performed by a competent surgeon.
Hair transplant surgery is often expensive, with a typical price tag in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. However, it could be an option worth considering if you have significant hair loss and want a lasting, effective way to restore your natural hairline.
Our guide to hair transplants goes into more detail about the cost, process and side effects of this type of procedure.
Some scientific research has found that low-level laser therapy may offer certain benefits for hair growth.
However, the research that’s currently available isn’t particularly comprehensive, with many of the studies of laser hair growth products small in scale and focused on general hair loss rather than male pattern baldness specifically.
If you’re affected by male pattern baldness, using a laser device might help to promote growth and restore some of your hair.
However, a better approach is to talk to a licensed healthcare provider about your options for treating hair loss, including FDA-approved medications that can prevent further loss and help you regrow hair in affected areas of your scalp and hairline.
Hair loss often creeps up on you over time, gradually wearing away at your hairline and crown until you catch a glimpse in a mirror or photo.
Our guide to the early signs of hair loss lists the key signs that you should pay attention to, as well as your treatment options for stopping male pattern baldness and maintaining a thick, full and healthy hairline throughout your life.
Insider tips, early access and more.